Thursday, June 30, 2011

Your Quest: Cheapest MAME cabinet: Part 1, decisions.

NOTE: My blog has now moved.  Please visit my new blog where I write about audio apps, diy synthesizers, and CNCs.

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NOTE: While this is probably the cheapest way to a MAME interface, I ended up with getting a simpler J-PAC for wiring.  Read my post about configuring Ubuntu to run inside the an arcade cab here!

I'm possibly buying a house soon. Naturally, the first thing on my mind is putting a stand-up arcade machine in the place. While I ended up buying a proper JAMMA cabinet, this post describes my original plan to build a MAME cabinet.


  • Stand-up. No bar-top machines
  • Two-player, only interact via arcade buttons & joystick
  • Should support NES, SNES, SEGA, and old-school MAME titles


JAMMA Cabinet (used)$200?Comes with buttons,speakers,screenHard to find, heavy to ship, custom monitor
DIY MDF Cabinet$100-$150 inc. buttonsCan make lighter, smaller, thinnerMore work, need to paint & trim, need buttons
Winner? Lets go with DIY / MDF.


For buttons, I was originally going to go with a la carte parts from SparkFun until I ran into this ebay deal: 2 joysticks & 14 buttons for $34 + shipping! Much cheaper!

But how to wire up the buttons / joystick? Depends on our choice of brain.


For the brain I have 3 free choices: XBOX, Wii, or old PC. While software-wise they could be considered equivalent I am tempted to sell my Xbox, keep the Wii on the TV, and use an old PC. More on this decision later.

PCHard-soldered to a USB keyboardwill be cheapLots of fine solder work to do
XBOXhand-soldered to two xbox contollersFREE!Again, lots of fine, custom, solder work to do. If it breaks then I have to go in and fix by hand.
WiiArduino-based classic controller emulationMost elegant solutionEven more DIY work, most expensive, have to hack wired power to wiimotes

Since I have a purposeless xbox, and plenty controllers, maybe that's the best bet? The work will be to wire up all the buttons to ripped apart controllers, then pack it all into a box and expose the wires with a nice little screw-post connector.

7 buttons per controller gives me, looking at an xbox controller, all I need.
- Almost all the digital buttons & D-Pad. I guess I can live without "Back" and just with "Start". That's actually perfect.

I think I will go with 6 buttons + 1 1p/2p button each player. That works for SNES and SEGA as well as the lesser MAME arcade games as well. Excellent!

Still to be determined: Screen, speakers, painting, etc, etc. However it is exciting to think the current total cost is around $50 + MDF/screws.

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